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Live_Transmission – Joy Division Reworked

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Four stars
For those who actually saw Joy Division, the Mancunian post-punk quartet who were still on the margins at the time of lead singer Ian Curtis' suicide in 1980, which put an abrupt end to the band's brief four year existence, the industry that has grown up around them and their record label Factory has been bewildering to watch. Books, films, cover versions and increasingly ludicrous merchandise abound, while Joy Division bassist Peter Hook and his band The Light have performed both the band's albums in full. This epic electro-orchestral deconstruction of Joy Division's austere and urgent canon, however, might well have been something the band's late producer Martin Hannett dreamt up.

Electronic auteur Scanner, the thirty-strong Heritage Orchestra plus drummer Adam Betts and guitarist Matt Calvert from post-rock instrumentalists Three Trapped Tigers and Ghostpoet bassist John Calvert perform an eighty-minute suite that takes Joy Division songs as their starting point before stripping them down, bending them out of shape and rebuilding them so they're barely recognisable. What's left of Transmission sounds like Ennio Morricone gone Techno, Digital is woozy and funereal, while Isolation becomes cosmic prog as Matt Watkins' video cut-ups capture the music's full Ballardian psycho-geographic sweep.

On one level, technology has made this an easy trick. There are tons of ripped-up, slowed-down versions of classic songs floating around the internet. On another, this is both a magnificent homage to one of one of the most important bands ever and a wonderful sleight of hand that can get a couple of thousand ageing ex-punks into a sit-down contemporary classical concert to witness industrial abstractions of northern England that sound as vital as they ever did.

The Herald, October 3rd 2013


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